Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Ladder of Years

Yeah, so I abandoned Alice Hoffman's The Rules of Magic after reading a few chapters and realising I have absolutely no interest in witches and magic.  Nothing wrong with the book, just didn't speak to me.  My cat took a fancy to it though.

Turned with relief to Anne Tyler and re-read Ladder of Years the story of Cordelia who abandons her family on a Delaware beach.  Almost without intending to and thinking she can turn back any moment she walks away, keeps walking, hitches a ride to another town and starts a new life.  Mourning the recent loss of her father, married to an undemonstrative family doctor, bossed around by two older sisters and mother of typically indifferent teenagers, Delia is not so much ignored as overlooked.  When her extended family take their annual holiday her children set up their beach mats a good twenty feet from the adults and she exchanges the kind of petty digs with her husband familiar to all in long-term relationships.

Her entire marriage unrolled itself before her: ancient hurts and humiliations theoretically forgotten but just waiting to be revived at moments like these.

Of course, what she's really doing is leaving her family before they leave her.  The 'empty nest' sadness that can affect women in later life is rarely explored in fiction and Anne Tyler nails it as always.  When Delia finds a job and a lonely rented room she is haunted by dreams of her children when they were young and wakes to find her face wet with tears.

Occasionally some jolt to the senses - a whiff of coconut oil, the grit of sand in her swimsuit seams - bought to mind the old family beach trips.... that packing up moment toward sunset each day when children beg to stay a little bit longer ... she remembered the bickering, and the sting of carelessly kicked-up sand against burned skin, and the weighty soft-boned weariness. She recalled each less-than-perfect detail, and yet still she would have given anything to find herself in one of those moments...

It's not all sad, there is skewed humour and a brilliant ending.  Ladder of Years is Anne Tyler's thirteenth novel and I think, her most perfectly representative work. 

Abandoned any books lately? 


Buried In Print said...

I haven't any books lately; I'm very picky about what gets into the stack so I don't often send something back to the shelf/library/etc. but it does happen. Your mention of Anne Tyler piqued my interest as I just finished Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which took me a long time to read, but which was just stunningly good. Ladder of Years is on my shelf too; I'll get there, but not for a bit. She's someone I always think would make good binge-reading but in reality I need time to process her stories and characters.

JoAnn said...

Thankfully I haven't abandoned any books in the last couple of months, but that wasn't the case in the late summer/early fall. I'm so glad that slump is over! I remember loving Ladder of Years. In fact, it was my book club's first selection... and we're still going strong twenty years later. Over the years I've enjoyed several of her other novels, but I haven't read her lately. Think it's time to return to Anne Tyler.

Lark said...

I almost abandoned The Sparrow Sisters, but I ended up skimming the last half of the book just to see how it ended...though even that felt pretty predictable and unsurprising. Ladder of Years sounds like a much better book. I used to read Anne Tyler a lot, but I haven't read anything by her in years. I should try her again with this book. :D

Arti said...

Yes, I still have it here from the library but don't think I'll finish it. Maybe some time in the future; but at present, I've just got too many distractions, books and everything else. And that's Zadie Smith's Swing Time. Not that it's not good, it's just me being overwhelmed with life.

Vintage Reading said...

Buried in Print, yes, Tyler is great for binge-reading. I think I've read and re-read about six in a row. Glad you loved Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, many consider it to be her finest novel.

JoAnn, I do hope you post if you re-visit Anne Tyler.

Lark, yes I often skim a book I abandon, too!

Arti, I know sometimes a book comes to you just when you need it!